Alterations Guide

Written by Daniel Solé & Daniel Mencía
Translated by David de la Iglesia
Originally published in Spanish @

[Editor's Note: Due to the Pro Tour, Good Game will be published next week so that Andrew can relate his experiences rather than talking about FNM this week. Please enjoy this article on card alterations in the meantime.]

Disclaimer: this article is not an official statement on card alterations from Wizards of the Coast or from the DCI, and should not be used as such. This work is the authors’ opinion, and its purpose is to assist judges and players to understand current policies affecting the use of these cards in official tournaments. This article is not a valid reference for a player to demand a specific altered card to be allowed in a tournament.

Magic has been evolving for its more than 15 years of existence. Obviously the most important changes are related to style and game strategy. However, the visual aspect has also experienced constant changes from Alpha to the latest expansions. Among the visual changes that have occurred, perhaps the most important are the progressive disappearance of white borders, translations into various languages, and the emergence of the foil cards.

There are players who don't mind too much about the visual appearance of their cards, but there are other players, in increasing numbers lately, who actually care.

Why? The cards do the same, whatever their appearance...

We believe that asking this question to those concerned on the appearance of their cards would give really different answers for each individual. However, the tendency in recent tournaments is clear: there are more players playing altered cards in tournaments every day.


An alteration of a card is simply a modification, usually on the art, applied once the card has been printed. We can find very different alterations, from the ones that simply add an element to the art to those changing the original drawing completely, through alterations that retain the original drawing but extend its size.

The Eternal format players are usually the ones that most often alter their cards, so alterations are easily spotted at those tournaments. As you all know, at the end of February there will be a tournament held in Spain, one of the most important Eternal tournaments held so far in Europe: the Legacy Grand Prix in Madrid. This tournament will gather many Eternal players nationwide and from all across Europe, and many will surely want to play the tournament with their altered cards. This has motivated us to write this article, so everyone knows what kinds of modifications are allowed in a GP.


When deciding if an alteration is allowed or not in a Magic tournament, there are several aspects to consider.

First, the card must be recognizable. What does this mean?

This means that, even if the card is altered, the alteration must allow the card to be identifiable from across the play mat. According to current DCI policy, the distinctive element that identifies a card is its original art; still we need to have in mind that the card’s name, the mana cost, the card type, its rules text and abilities, and the power and toughness or loyalty (if the card is a creature or a Planeswalker) are also elements that can help to uniquely identify the card. Undoubtedly the most important aspect is whether the art is recognizable or not; this means that although the original art can be modified, this modification cannot be total, and the original drawing must be recognizable in some way. In addition, the new drawing cannot be offensive or inappropriate (e.g. sexist, racist, etc.)

Second, there are aspects that derive from how the alteration is made. Since an alteration is done by adding a layer of ink to the card, it can end up having more thickness and weight than a regular magic card. In order to get an alteration permitted, the thickness and weight of the card must be the same as they were before making the alteration. In addition, altered cards usually have the same problem as foil cards; they end up bending, in this case due to the layer of ink that has been added to make the alteration. Since a bent card can be distinguishable from the rest of cards in a deck it is essential that the altered card is not bent for it to be legal in a tournament.


Here we have a few examples of alterations for deeper understanding of these concepts:

Let’s look at these four alterations to Force of Will. They are a clear example of an alteration that would not be allowed at a Grand Prix. Despite name, mana cost, card type and rules text rules being almost completely identifiable in all of them, the original drawing has been completely changed in all cases, so much so that it is impossible to identify any of them. We wouldn’t allow this kind of alteration.

These two alterations are examples of allowed alterations. Name, cost, card type, and rules text are easily identifiable (albeit only partially on Yawgmoth’s Will). The original drawing has been altered, but can still be identified very clearly. Even the potentially problematic case of Mind's Desire due to its language does not imply any additional difficulty, since the card preserves almost all of the original art.

There are many alterations consisting of extending the card’s original art towards the edges; in those cards, the name, mana cost, original art, card type, and rules text are easily recognizable. For this type of alteration to be legal, the card must retain its original borders, either black or white. We wouldn’t allow this example in tournaments since the alteration has covered the card’s original black border. If the card would have kept its original black border, it would be tournament legal in our opinion.

In this alteration we can see the card’s name, but other aspects (card type, rules text, and especially the original art) are not identifiable. Therefore, we would not admit it in tournaments.

In this alteration, the card can be identified fairly well: it is clearly a Forest. However, this alteration may be considered inappropriate. The erotic content of the image may not be suitable since it does not comply with the "from 13+ years" recommendation printed on boosters. We wouldn’t accept it in a tournament.

In these alterations, the original art has been altered by adding an element on top of the depicted scene. However, we clearly distinguish the original card since each card’s art remains similar to the original and the add-ons do not make it more difficult to recognize them. Other aspects of the card are clearly identifiable. They would both be allowed in a tournament.

The altered art has nothing to do with the original. As an additional problem, the rules text has been completely removed from the card. Therefore, we would not allow this alteration in a tournament. The rules text being absent is not that relevant; this happens on textless promos and they’re legal. The problem is the art has nothing to do with any of the official arts for the card.

In this creature card, the alteration is an extension of the original art that covers the original black edges. In addition, its power and toughness are gone. Being a creature, it is important that the creature’s power and toughness are identifiable to avoid causing confusion in the game state. DCI’s current policy says the card needs to be recognizable by its art, and it says nothing about characteristics such as P/T being visible; have in mind though, that generally the less confusion an alteration creates the easier it gets for a HJ in a tournament to allow it. However, the HJ is the final authority when deciding if an alteration is allowed, and even when some HJs would not be concerned by the absence of P/T, the fact that the original black borders are covered renders the alteration not playable. In our opinion it wouldn’t be allowed in a tournament.

This is another example of an altered card that, despite keeping all its characteristics recognizable, the art is totally unrelated to the original. Therefore, this Gifts Ungiven would not be allowed in tournaments.

This alteration of a Mox Diamond allows the original art to be recognized. The name, mana cost, and card type are also identifiable. The rules text is partially covered by the alteration, but the card is overall still distinguishable. This alteration is valid in tournaments.

The art of this Bitterblossom has been expanded, covering the card’s original black border but keeping the style from the original art. However, the expansion of the art keeps us from recognizing the card name, card type, and rules text. While the art is clearly recognizable, the absence of mainly the card name can hinder its identification, and it is likely the HJ in a tournament would disallow it. We would not allow it in tournaments.

This Trinket Mage has received a small "extra" in its text box; although it covers part of the rules text it does not cause much trouble to identify either the card or its text box. Note the added design resembles a Sensei’s Divining Top, a card that can be searched for with the Wizard. This isn't considered Outside Assistance, so you could play this alteration in a tournament. This example gives only minor strategic information, and while it is acceptable, altering a card with other card images or indications that form or describe a combo beyond minor strategic information is not. For example, altering a Gifts Ungiven with an Academy Ruins, a Mindslaver and a Life from the Loam, or to write in a Conflux what cards you need to search for, wouldn't be allowed.

This Tangle Wire has the original art completely changed, and has part of its rules text covered. To recognize the card, we need to make a real effort, and we will be able to do it only after reviewing the card name and reading the remaining rules text. Also, since once played, the card will remain in the battlefield several turns it can cause confusion on the game state. We wouldn’t allow this card in tournaments.


Although we've analyzed several alterations for a better understanding of the DCI policy regarding this issue, there is a very important assessment remaining: the possibilities alterations give are endless, and we don’t believe it’s possible to make a guide covering 100% of the possible situations.

Before any tournament that you want to play with your alterations, it is recommended to consult with the Head Judge on the legality of your artistic modifications. The tournament’s Head Judge is the final authority on this matter, and one of your cards may not be allowed in competitive play. Given the case, you’ll have to play with a regular unmodified version of that card. Due to this, and to avoid any trouble, we recommend that you bring with you the regular unmodified versions of your alterations to tournaments.

All the considerations on the legality of altered cards are for competitive level tournaments (Pro Tour Qualifiers, Grand Prix Trials or first day of a Grand Prix, among others). In regular rules enforcement level tournaments (FNM, for example) judges will rarely be strict with these aspects. Still, we recommend consulting with the Head Judge just in case. Finally we want to thank the following alteration artists for allowing us to use their work in this article:

We recommend you visiting their websites to enjoy what these artists can offer to you.

Daniel Solé García - DCI Judge Level 2
Daniel Mencía Martín - DCI Judge Level 1


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